–  Ex-Penn State, Seahawks running back finds new field in Beaverton/

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Former Seattle Seahawks great Curt Warner, now selling insurance in Beaverton, has fond memories of his running back days in the NFL and at Penn State.Before there was Kurt Warner, the NFL quarterback, there was Curt Warner, the NFL running back.

Warner with a “K” was a two-time Most Valuable Player and a Super Bowl MVP, but Warner with a “C” wasn’t chopped liver on the gridiron, either.

Curt Warner — who lives in Camas, Washington, and sells insurance in Beaverton — played eight NFL seasons from 1983 to 1990, the first seven for the Seattle Seahawks. He had four 1,000-yard seasons with Seattle, along with a 985-yard season in strike-shortened 1987, when only 12 games were played.

In six of his seasons with the Seahawks — taking away 1984, when he was injured in the opener and missed the rest of the season — Warner rushed for 6,664 yards and 55 touchdowns. He appeared in three Pro Bowls and finished among the NFL’s top 10 in rushing four times.

The former Penn State All-American is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor. Not bad for a “country kid” from tiny Wyoming, West Virginia, a town of about 300 in a county of about 23,000.

Warner has lived in Camas since 1999, running an auto dealership in Vancouver until 2010, when he transitioned into the insurance business. He says he has enjoyed living in the Portland area.

“Great place to live,” says Warner, 55, who has just opened a Farmer’s Insurance office in Beaverton. “Reminds me of Seattle when I lived there in the ‘80s, before the boon with all the high-tech companies. It was a big city, but a small town, too. It’s crazy up there now.”

Warner’s father, James, was a coal miner. Curt and his older brother, Robert, were adopted and raised by their maternal grandparents “on the other side of the tracks,” Curt says. There was one general store in the town, where “you could buy anything and everything. We had a running tab there. Billie Joe Cooper ran the store.”

Money was tight, but it was a happy childhood. The Warner boys loved football, basketball and baseball and played all three at Pineville High, a school that no longer exists. “Robert was a better athlete than me at the time,” Curt says.

But by the time he was a senior, Warner was the best football player in the state. Penn State won a recruiting battle with Pittsburgh for his services, in no small part due to the presence of Coach Joe Paterno.

“Coach Paterno stressed academics,” Warner says, “And he wanted us to be good citizens. With him, it was, ‘If you don’t abide by the rules, or get the grades, you’re not going to play.’ My freshman year, he took two returning All-Americans out of the lineup because they weren’t up to speed academically. He was sending a pretty clear message to the rest of us: You better go to class, and you better do what you’re supposed to do.

“I didn’t like him that much when I played for him. I didn’t like him at all, but I respected him. He kept everybody in line.”

And he won games. The Nittany Lions were 21-3 during Warner’s junior and senior seasons, ranking No. 3 in 1981 and winning the national championship in 1982.

The catalyst was Warner, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a junior and senior. He still ranks second on the Penn State career rushing list with 3,398 yards, behind only Evan Royster (2007-10) and ahead of such greats as Larry Johnson and Lydell Mitchell.

Warner ended his career on the highest of notes in a matchup between No. 2 Penn State and No. 1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs were led by running back Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy winner. Warner rushed for 177 yards and a pair of TDs in a 27-23 victory; Walker finished with 101 yards and a score on 28 carries.

“That was a crazy night,” Warner says. “All week, we’d heard about Herschel Walker and, ‘How bout them Dawgs?’ By the time the game started, we were ready to go. We were like, ‘Let’s play. We’re tired of listening about Georgia being the best team and we can’t play with these guys. OK, we’ll find out who the best team is.’

“But I didn’t make it a personal thing. I knew I could compete at the same level with Herschel. I was pretty confident in my abilities. I was just going to do what I normally do.”

The defensive coordinator during Warner’s time at Penn State was Jerry Sandusky, who in 2011 was convicted of molestation of dozens of young boys over a period of many years through his “Second Mile” charitable youth organization at the university.

“If you met Jerry Sandusky, you liked the guy,” Warner says. “We all supported Jerry’s ‘Second Mile.’ He had Big Brothers for his kids, and we were all participants. If he needed fundraising, we were all there for Jerry, because we thought he was doing the right thing.

“We had no idea what he was doing. When that came out, I was like, ‘What? You kidding me?’ That’s so horrible at any level. It’s going to leave a stain on the institution, and the people who went there to a certain degree.”

COURTESY: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - Curt Warner starred at running back for the Seattle Seahawks from 1983-89.Warner was chosen with the third pick in the 1983 draft, widely considered the best class in NFL history. John Elway and Eric Dickerson went 1-2 in the first round, which included players such as Chris Hinton, Jimbo Covert, Bruce Matthews, Jim Kelly, Jim Jeffcoat, Willie Gault, Joey Browner, Ken O’Brien, Dave Remington and Darrell Green. Elway, Dickerson, Marino, Matthews, Kelly, Green and Richard Dent are all graduates of that class who are currently in the Hall of Fame.

Under first-year coach Chuck Knox — the coach during his entire time in Seattle — Warner rushed for 1,449 yards and 13 touchdowns, caught 42 passes for 325 yards and made the Pro Bowl.

“I felt the pressure, but you have to deal with it,” Warner says. “It was, ‘Chuck likes to run the football. That’s why I’m here. He knows how to do it. That’s how we’re going to play football.’ And it worked very well for us.”

Seattle reached the NFC Championship Game before falling 30-14 to the Los Angeles Raiders.

“We’d beaten them twice in the regular season,” Warner says. “The difference (in the playoffs) was, the Raiders had raised their level of intensity another notch. If you’ve never been there, you don’t know how it works.”

In the season opener the next year, Warner suffered an ACL injury to his right knee and missed the rest of the season. He came back for a 1,000-yard season in 1985, and in 1986 rushed for a career-best 1,481 yards and 13 TDs.

“Took me about a year and a half to get back to where I was,” Warner says. “I thought we had our best team during my time in Seattle that year. We beat Denver in the last game of the season, and (the Broncos) ended up going to the Super Bowl. We were on a roll, but we finished 10-6 and didn’t make the playoffs.”

Warner finished his injury-shortened career with one season as a backup with the Los Angeles Rams in 1990, retiring at age 29. He faced six operations in his eight years — two on the right knee, one on the right ankle and three on the left ankle. That’s not counting injuries on a finger and a shoulder that he declined to have surgically repaired.

“The pounding you take as an NFL running back is brutal,” he says. “The reason you leave is because you’ve taken enough hits, you can’t deal with any longer. I remember seeing the great Earl Campbell at the Pro Bowl my rookie year, when he was close to finishing his career. I could see the physical toll the game had taken on him.”

Playing on the AstroTurf at the Kingdome was not easy on the legs, either.

“I would have liked to have been on grass,” Warner says. “That turf was like playing on concrete. It was horrible. I had bone spurs on my ankles because of that.

“We’d all like to play longer. It would have been fun to play another couple of years, but as Chuck would always say, ‘You play the deck your are dealt.’ I had a good career. I have no complaints. We’d all like for it to end like it did for Peyton Manning, where you go out on top. Nobody ever wants to quit. Sometimes they have to nudge you out of there.”

Warner still ranks third on the Seahawks’ career rushing list, one yard behind the man who succeeded him, Chris Warren (1990-97). Shaun Alexander (9,429 yards from 2000-07) is No. 1.

After retirement, he operated Curt Warner Buick/Pontiac/GMC in Seattle for nine years before moving his dealership to Vancouver in 1999. In 2010, Warner switched careers, working five years selling insurance for Montgomery and Graham in Lake Oswego. Now he is with Farmer’s in Beaverton and enjoying the business.

“People need insurance,” he says. “It’s great to be able to provide them a service that is going to support them when they’re having an issue. It’s good to be there for people when something happens.”

Warner also volunteered as an assistant coach at Camas High in the late 2000s.

“I’ve always had an itch to get in there and coach a little bit,” he says. “As a player, the natural thing to do is to go into coaching, and I didn’t. I joined Jon Eagle for a few seasons, and it was a fun opportunity.”

Warner and his wife of 26 years, Ana, have four children. Jonathan, 23, will graduate in August from Penn State with a degree in broadcast communications. He played two seasons as a wide receiver at his father’s alma mater. The youngest is Isabella, 10.

In between are twins Austin and Christian, 22, who have autism. On a scale of one to 10 in the autism spectrum, Curt estimates they are a four or five. “They’re fine health-wise, and they have jobs through SEH America,” he says. “But they’re always going to need some kind of assistance.”

One of the twins burned down the Warner home in Camas in 2007.

“We lost pretty much everything,” Curt says. “It doesn’t get any worse than that. But at least nobody was injured. I was the only one who wasn’t home at the time. Everybody was able to get out of the house in time.”

Parenting the autistic twins “is the most difficult thing we’ll ever had to do,” Warner says, “and the most difficult thing we’ll continue to do. We have people helping us, but it’s a 24/7 grind.”

The 5-11 Warner weighs about 210 pounds, close to his playing weight. “It’s just distributed a little differently,” he says with a grin.

He plays golf and walks regularly, “but I don’t do anything too strenuous,” Warner says.

Is he in pain from his football days?

“It depends,” he says. “Some days more than others. For the most part, it’s pain I can deal with.”

Warner loved his time with the Seahawks, playing with such teammates as Kenny Easley, Steve Largent, Jim Zorn and Dave Krieg. But he cherishes his time at Penn State even more.

“It was the best time of my career with regard to the total package,” Warner says. “You meet new friends. You’re growing up. You start out as a young man and you end up leaving as an adult.

“It was a great time. (Quarterback) Todd Blackledge was my roommate. I thoroughly enjoyed playing football at Penn State. There are many of my teammates (with whom) I’m still very good friends with today.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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